The structure is so ancient that it feels almost prehistoric. Some people take a trip to a remote island, they see some dinosaurs, and then the dinosaurs try to have them for lunch. It’s what happened in Jurassic Park in 1993, and by the time the first sequel came out in 1997, the screenplay was already poking fun at how formulaic it was. “‘Ooh, aah’, that’s how it always starts,” says Jeff Goldblum’s Dr Ian Malcolm in The Lost World: Jurassic Park. “Then later there’s running and screaming.” How right he was. But this self-knowledge didn’t stop the makers of Jurassic Park III (2001) and Jurassic World (2015) sticking to the formula, and it wasn’t until the second half of this year’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom that the series found somewhere else to go.
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How different things might have been. Back in 2004, John Sayles (the writer-director of Passion Fish and Lone Star) wrote a half-crazy half-brilliant screenplay for Jurassic Park 4 that took the story all over the planet, and which pioneered several radical ideas that are only just being incorporated into the franchise now. Steven Spielberg, the series’ producer and its original director was keen at first, and it’s easy to see why: Sayles’ rollicking script is sprinkled with quintessentially Spielberg-y moments. On the other hand, it’s also easy to see why Spielberg cooled off on the project. A movie about a globe-trotting A-Team of genetically modified, crime-busting Deinonychuses might have strayed just a little too far from the Jurassic Park films that audiences knew and loved.
Still, the screenplay is a pleasure to read, and Sayles’ enthusiasm is evident in all the comic-strip sound effects he throws in (“THOONK! FWACK! HRRRRRRONK! CHOMP!”). He uses these with particular glee in the opening sequence, in which a flock of Pteranodons swoops down on a Little League baseball game – and what could be more Spielbergian than this staple of all-American family life being disrupted by ravenous monsters? As in the finale of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, dinosaurs have escaped from Isla Nublar, and are now running amok, so the man who brought them back from extinction, John Hammond, decides that, actually, extinction was the best place for them.
All of a sudden, the premise of Snakes on a Plane doesn’t sound quite so ridiculous
Hammond, who was played by the late Richard Attenborough, hires Nick Harris, an unflappable Navy Seal-turned-mercenary. The scaly inhabitants of Isla Nublar, Hammond explains, are now owned by the sinister “Grendel Corporation” – because who wouldn’t name their company after a legendary marauding monster? But Hammond wants Nick to sneak onto the island and retrieve a flask of dino-embryos. His plan is to clone yet more of the creatures, but to ensure, this time, that they are infertile. Introducing some “highly aggressive but reproductively neutered individuals” into the dinosaur population will wipe them out, apparently. All of a sudden, the premise of Snakes on a Plane doesn’t sound quite so ridiculous.
Still, the money is good, so Nick goes to Isla Nublar on a one-man commando raid, and Sayles writes some wild chases straight out of an Indiana Jones movie, plus a jump-scare straight out of Jaws: “The hatch falls open and the top half of a half-eaten DEAD MAN drops through!” As well as dodging DEAD MEN, Nick has to dodge dinosaurs and Grendel’s security goons, and he is knocked unconscious at the end of this action-packed section. When he wakes up, he finds himself in, believe it or not, a medieval castle in the Swiss Alps. But the script’s departure from earlier Jurassic Park films is more than just geographical.
‘Something out of James Bond’
One of the men keeping Nick captive is Adrien Joyce, who likes to swing around a long-handled axe. Another of his captors is Baron von Drax, the head of Grendel, who prefers to entertain himself with crossbow practice. If the villain’s dragonish surname rings any bells, that may be because the villain in Moonraker was called Hugo Drax. And in case you think that’s a coincidence, we soon come to the words: “Nick and Joyce step into something out of a James Bond movie.” It’s worth noting that Spielberg made Raiders of the Lost Ark only after Cubby Broccoli refused to let him have a turn at 007, so Sayles seems to have hit upon a cunning way of endearing his script to the director, ie, shoving in a megalomaniacal Euro-baddy, thus convincing Spielberg that he was finally getting to make a Bond film, which just happened to have dinosaurs in it.
The highlight could be when a dinosaur savages the drug lord while he’s in his hot tub wearing nothing but gold chains
The “something out of a James Bond movie” is a cavernous laboratory under the castle where Deinonychuses are being controlled with hormone boosts. The scientist overseeing the experiments is Nick’s love interest, Maya, who earnt a “doctorate in behavioural sciences” before working as wait for it – a lion tamer in a circus. And this is where the screenplay starts to get really strange. Joyce wants to armour the dinos and use them as “shock troops, SWAT teams, riot control, search and destroy – the ultimate in special forces”. Game for anything, it seems, Nick agrees to train them, and is soon putting the Deinonychuses through their paces like the drill sergeant in any number of war movies. As the script puts it: “MILITARY MUSIC as we follow the raptors over and through a kind of OBSTACLE COURSE.”
Once Nick has whipped his reptilian rookies into a slightly more leathery and inarticulate version of The Expendables, the dino squad is sent to Morocco to rescue a French industrialist’s daughter from terrorist kidnappers, and then to somewhere indeterminate in South America to infiltrate the “narco compound” of a drug lord: unlike the Jurassic World films, this one really does go around the world, setting major sequences in four different continents. The highlight of its climactic South American section could be when dinosaurs are parachuting – yes, parachuting – into the jungle, while Nick gives them orders via a radio headset: “Squad form and proceed to target. You’re on your own, fellas.” But it could be when a dinosaur savages the drug lord while he’s in his hot tub wearing nothing but gold chains.
Well, all right. Maybe, in retrospect, Spielberg knew what he was doing when he chose not to film Sayles’ Jurassic Park 4 script. But it might be more accurate to say that at least some of the script was filmed, after all. Sayles may not have received an on-screen credit, but Colin Trevorrow, the director and co-writer of Jurassic World and the co-writer of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, has admitted that he read the 2004 draft – and its DNA is definitely present in Trevorrow’s movies.
Chris Pratt’s swashbuckling hero, Owen Grady, could be Nick Harris’s brother. The concept of dinosaurs being weaponised for military combat is in Jurassic World. The laboratory complex beneath a mansion is in Fallen Kingdom. And remember that bit at the beginning of Fallen Kingdom in which someone is dangling from a helicopter’s ladder, and a giant beastie leaps out of the sea to swallow him? That very gag is there in Jurassic Park 4 – except that it’s Nick who is dangling from the ladder, so he gets away in one piece.
Sayles can take some comfort, then, in knowing that his work has been in two Jurassic films so far, even if contained too many innovations to fit into one. The amazing thing is that his next draft is rumoured to have been even more extreme. Supposedly, it featured giant human/dinosaur hybrids – and certainly some “Humanosaurus” concept art has shown up online. If any Humanosaurs rampage through the next Jurassic World episode, you’ll know where they came from.
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